A rising number of patients, many of them young people, are being treated in emergency rooms for complications related to highly caffeinated energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster Energy and 5-Hour Energy, new federal data shows.
The number of annual hospital visits involving the drinks doubled from 2007 to 2011, the latest year for which data are available, according to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
In 2011, there were 20,783 reported emergency room visits in which an energy drink was cited as the primary cause of or a contributing factor to a health problem, compared with 10,068 in 2007. Such problems, which are typically linked to excessive caffeine consumption, can include anxiety, headaches, irregular heartbeats and heart attacks.
The energy drink industry, which had estimated sales last year of more than $10 billion, has come under increasing scrutiny after recent disclosures that the Food and Drug Administration has received numerous reports of deaths and injuries in which the drinks were mentioned. A product’s mention in an FDA report does not mean it played a role in a death or an injury, and energy drink producers insist that their beverages are safe.
A new report reflects updated statistics gathered through the Drug Abuse Warning Network, a government system to which hospitals report drug-related emergency room visits. Hospital visits related to energy drinks fell slightly from 2008 to 2009, the year at which a previous report ended. But the new data show that such visits rose again in 2010 and reached a record in 2011.
“Consumption of energy drinks is a rising public health problem because medical and behavioral problems can result from excessive caffeine intake,” the report said. “A growing body of scientific evidence documents harmful health effects of energy drinks, particularly for children, adolescents and young adults.”
People from 18 to 25 accounted for the largest group of patients by age, the data show. Overall, male patients accounted for about two-thirds of those treated. Energy drink producers market their products to teenagers and young adults with images that extol extreme sports, rock music and scantily clad young women.
About 42 percent of the people treated in emergency rooms for problems related to energy drinks had consumed the drinks along with alcohol or other substances, like Adderall and Ritalin. Both of those drugs, like caffeine, are stimulants.
Energy drink producers claim that their proprietary formulations provide consumers with a physical and mental edge. There is little scientific evidence, however, that the drinks provide anything more than a high dose of caffeine similar to that found in a strong cup of coffee.
The report also found that a growing number of older patients were experiencing complications from using energy drinks, possibly because of interactions with other medications.
“Health professionals can discourage use of energy drinks by explaining that perceived health benefits are largely due to marketing techniques rather than scientific evidence,” the report said.